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Bride to the Beast by Samantha Madisen – Sample

Chapter One

Royla hummed as she skipped through the trees. She turned her head and looked over her shoulder, flashing another flirtatious smile at the two handsome guardsmen who followed her with spears.

They were good stock: tall and muscular, their broad chests hard as stone from shooting arrows and throwing spears. They returned her smile, their eyes drifting down her body to the loincloth she was wearing that barely covered her bottom.

Royla’s cheeks warmed at their attention.

It had been a strange morning. Barnisha had been in a strange mood. The tribe mother, usually so cheerful, had seemed morose and out of sorts. She rarely paid attention to the youngers. So, when she’d brought a sweetloaf to Royla and told her she was to go picking berries in the glen, Royla had been quite confused.

But the sweetloaf had tasted so good, and the prospect of fresh rootberries after supper had lightened her spirits. She’d gladly accepted the basket, woven of willow, and skipped out the palisade gates and down the hill.

When she’d noticed the two guardsmen following her, she’d stopped, turned, and walked back up to talk to them. “Are you coming with me?” she’d asked.

“We are,” the slightly larger of the two had said.

This had puzzled Royla even more. First Barnisha’s attention and now this? It seemed very strange. “Why?”

The two had exchanged a curious glance at the question, Royla had noted. “There have been whispers of a wolf-pack wandering in the trees past the glen,” the larger had said. “Tribe mother said we were to keep you safe.”

The answer had only added to her confusion. Tribe mother didn’t have time to worry about sending youngers on berry-picking expeditions. And two guardsmen to keep one young girl out of harm’s way? Surely, they were more needed at the palisade?

“These berries are for the eve of Sowing Song,” the other had explained. “Tribe mother said we must have them. To share with the Drykta.”

“And the Tendek,” the large one added.

This made more sense. Royla had been so excited that her eighteenth winter had passed, she’d forgotten all about the Singing. Her eyes lit up with excitement at the prospect of the festival. There would be bonfires and dancing. And this year she would be allowed into the rutting hut to watch the seeding ritual!

Her heart fluttered. Her eyes wandered along the strong bodies of the handsome men. She couldn’t help but wonder if she might be picked this year? She was finally old enough. “Do you have a chosen?” she asked, looking back and forth between the two of them.

The men’s eyes went wide. One of them blushed and looked the other way.

The large one scowled. “What a question for a girl to ask! Don’t be rude!” he scolded.

Royla’s cheeks flushed red with shame. She was always doing things like that! Asking the wrong questions at the wrong time. “I’m… I’m sorry. I just thought that…”

“No wonder tribe mother picked you,” the shorter one muttered.

The larger guardsmen immediately elbowed him in the ribs. “Silence,” he muttered.

Royla shook her head. Still embarrassed by her misstep, she decided it would be best just to get on with it and head for the glen.

It was a beautiful day the first warm day of spring and the first day she didn’t have to wear her furs outdoors. She meandered down the path, the sunlight shining through the canopy casting dappled light and shadow on the forest floor.

Every so often she would turn and steal a look at the guardsmen behind her. Lately all sorts of strange new thoughts had been filling her mind. She’d taken to looking at the other men in the tribe and wondering what it was exactly that happened in the rutting hut in the spring.

She had some inkling, having one time heard from a friend about two bodies twisted together in the forest, mashing against each other and moaning. She’d hidden in the brush and watched them until they both cried out and the man had collapsed on top of the woman, panting and sweating.

But she hadn’t been able to get enough of a view to know exactly what they’d been doing. It seemed a little filthy, from what she’d seen.

As the hills rose on either side of them, Royla forced herself to stop imagining lewd things and start paying attention to the shrubs. Rootberries liked the shade. She picked at the brush, peeling back leaves and branches, trying to find the hiding spots of the sweet things.

By the time they arrived at the glen, she’d found nothing. She turned and watched the two guardsmen walking up behind her. They came to a stop a few feet away. Royla shook her head. “I can’t seem to find anything,” she said.

The larger one pointed his spear past the glen, toward the forest wall ahead. “Maybe in there?” he said.

Royla turned and looked at the wall of trees. They seemed darker than the ones they were in. Maybe even a little ominous. She spun back around to face the men, catching their eyes just as they snapped off her backside.

A funny warm feeling tickled her insides. A smile sprouted across her lips. “Are you going to come with me? What if the wolves are in there?” Royla asked, a slight tease in her tone.

The guardsmen looked at each other. “Of course,” the larger one said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Satisfied, Royla turned and began to jog through the dell. She closed her eyes and savored the warm air on her cheeks. A deep breath tickled her mind with the sweet smell of fresh grass in the sun.

She crossed the glen in no time. Pausing to make sure the guardsmen were following her, she stepped into the shadows cast by the trees.

The forest here seemed still. Perhaps because the vegetation was so thick, the usual sounds of animals and birds were muffled, if they were even there.

Royla held her breath. She tilted her head to one side and listened, trying to hear anything.

There was nothing there. The silence was a little eerie.

She turned to see that the guardsmen had stopped in the middle of the glen. They’d put their spears down and sat down on the warm grass.

Probably to enjoy the sunshine, Royla thought. It still seemed a little strange that they were there at all. She hadn’t heard anything about wolves in the forest and she paid attention to what everyone said. And why hadn’t Barnisha mentioned it? Telling her to be more careful than usual? Why had she sent these two men after her instead?

Royla shook her head, ridding herself of the questions. That was her problem. She asked too many questions. Everyone always told her that.

Taking a few more steps into the forest, she crouched down and began searching the leaves for berries hiding underneath.

The rage drove Thanred forward. Each time he thought of the smug smile on Dodlin’s face it would flare again. That ugly prick and his scheming. How he had bribed the others was still a mystery.

“Gutless fucking rat,” Thanred cursed. He lashed out at a fallen tree, leaving five long claw marks along the rotting bark. A sliver drove itself between his claw and the finger, making him grunt as the pain stabbed up his arm.

He closed his eyes and readied for the eruption of his fury. Calming himself had never been one of his talents.

But somewhere from inside the roiling red anger, a pang of sorrow rose up through him. Sorrow at how he’d been treated. Sorrow at how all the others had turned against him, had stood behind Dodlin, their heads bowed in supplication.

He had half a mind to turn back and tear them all to shreds. In his current state, Dodlin’s cronies would be no match for him.

The pain stabbed through him again. But instead of lashing out, Thanred took a breath. A deep breath, sucking air all the way to the bottom of his lungs. It cleared his mind, like wind sweeping fog off the sea. A stillness settled inside of him.

What good would it do to go back? No one wanted him there anymore. What good would it do to see them all again and be reminded of their rejection?

The caves of Nefresh that had been home for his whole life were no longer that. Now they were just a place. A place he would never return.

The finality of it eased some of his anger. As deeply as it cut, he knew there was nothing he could do. He could either walk up to the Old Horn at the top of the Mother Mountain and throw himself off, or he could go on living. There were other places in the world than the caves, after all.

The trouble with that, the trouble with all of this, was the gnawing ache between his legs. His cock stood half-erect. It had been that way since the day he’d left. Pumping it brought no relief, no matter how much seed he spilled.

His Dranark blood coursed hot in his veins. He took another deep breath, trying to quell his needs. If he didn’t find a way to sheathe it soon…

Other exiles had gone mad, or so the stories went. Driven to the brink by their need to mate, they’d been found at the foot of Mother Mountain, their bodies mangled and twisted from the fall. Unable to live with the powerful need unmet, they’d chosen to end it all.

Another deep breath. He steeled himself against the feeling. That would not be him.

His nostrils flared. The scent of… something singeing his senses. Something hot and sweet and wet. He could almost taste it.

Steady, Thanred. Focus.

He turned his head ever so slightly to one side to try to follow the smell. It was not the heady musk of a Dranark female’s cunt in heat. This was… softer. Spicier.

He sniffed again. The smell was stronger, he was sure of it.

Thanred crouched low in the bush, his cock rising between his knees. His mind began to race. His eyes went wide at the realization of the time of year.

Sweet spirit, it is the offering!

His lust surged, even as he shook his head, unable to believe the coincidence. Surely Dodlin had thought of this, had remembered that it was spring, knew that the humans living in their puny palisade would be sending a sweet flower into the forest to be plucked?

He shook his head again. The only thing to be sure of with Dodlin was his stupidity. He must have made a mistake! He must have forgotten, his mind clouded by the excitement of turning the whole tribe against Thanred! Either that or there was another Dranark wandering these woods this very moment, searching for the nubile gift.

If there was, Thanred would not be bested again. He began to move: slow and low, staying quiet, crawling through the undergrowth and following his nose as the scent strengthened.

The forest thickened around him. It seemed to close in, branches reaching out and trying to grab him.

It was almost painful, trying to deny his excitement, fighting the breeding heat and staying as quiet as he could.

The smell sharpened. It was clear now, the direction it was coming from. Light pricked through the trees. A clearing. He peered over a low brush, out into the light. His heart skipped a beat.

Two humans stood side by side in the clearing with spears. Their eyes were narrowed, surveying the thick wood as if searching for something in there. Searching for him?

They had to know. They had to know he would break them like twigs if it came to that. But no. They were watching for… something different.

The scent was even closer now. The smell so intoxicating that it nearly blinded him with desire. He crouched down again and closed his eyes. It was his nose that would lead him to it. That was what he had to follow.

A sharp crack shot through the forest. The sound of a twig breaking.

Thanred’s eyes snapped open, then narrowed.

It was close.

She was close. So close he could almost taste her. And it was a her. Of that he was absolutely certain.

Motion caught his eye. Ever so slowly he turned his head, his chest swelling.

The sight of the soft alabaster rump twisting in the brush was like an oasis in the desert. She had fine, flaxen hair that cascaded down to the small of her back. Her loincloth barely covered the two round orbs. They called to him, a siren song of flesh.

Thanred stilled himself. He was strong but these humans, they could be fast. Especially their women. The smell of her cunt filled the air.

His cock stiffened to a rigid pole between his legs. It bounced with each fresh inhalation.

He held his breath as she turned sideways, still peeling up leaves and peering under them.

She had an ample chest. A loose-fitting fur barely covered her bulging breasts. Thanred could make out the soft swells peeking out from beneath.

His cock throbbed in painful agony between his legs.

She wasn’t older than twenty winters. Of that, he was certain. Her buxom curves, the way her waist tucked in before flaring into ample hips made it clear she’d never been bred.

It seemed nearly impossible that what he needed most had suddenly appeared. Visions of sinking his cock into her tightness raced through his mind.

But the two men. He would have to be careful. He would have to be quiet. He would have to cover her mouth as he took her. What would be more infuriating than being interrupted mid-rut to have to kill two men?

She moved again. Crawling along the forest floor, she continued prying up leaves, occasionally plucking a berry or two, completely lost in what she was doing.

Thanred could stand it no longer. He moved one foot out, searching along the forest floor with his toe to make sure he wouldn’t step on something that would make a sound. When he was sure of his footing, he shifted his weight, swaying so that he was behind her again, in sight of her delicious rump.

Snap!

Thanred sucked in a breath.

The female’s ears pricked up.

Fuck!

Had he foiled his chance for release? Would she bolt? He couldn’t let that happen. Muscles tensing, he prepared to lunge.

Chapter Two

She’d heard it. She was certain she had. Something had snapped. And just a few feet away. Her heart began thundering inside her chest.

Royla turned her head to look toward the dell. The two guardsmen had stood up. They were peering into the forest. Had they heard it too? Could they sense it?

The sight of them sent a shiver racing down her back. Had they not been standing there, it would have been possible that one of them had made the noise. As it was, that could not be. It had to have been something else. Or someone else.

Her mouth fell open to call out to them. A moment before she shouted, she thought better of it. Perhaps it was just something small. Everything always sounded so much larger in the woods. Maybe it was a rabbit or a squirrel. Something harmless.

But her body wouldn’t let her believe it. She had to fight to bring herself to move at all. The earth and the air seemed to be holding her in place. She turned to look the other way.

Her eyes met nothing but the dark green shadows of the deeper forest. Suddenly her blood was hot, coursing through her veins. Her muscles were tense, ready to spring to one side or the other if the something revealed itself.

The basket she’d been holding fell from her hands. The sound of it landing on dried branches and leaves crackled through the cool air between the trees. The two handfuls of berries she’d managed to pick spilled out, some of them splitting and oozing their sweet red juice onto the forest floor.

Royla cursed herself for being so careless. All that work for nothing. A finger of calm wormed its way into her mind.

“I’m being ridiculous,” she whispered as she shook her head. She began to explain it all away. The forest made all sorts of sounds. She’d just been so absorbed in finding the rootberries it had been easy to ignore. This sound had just been louder than the rest. That was all. Wolves didn’t hunt during the day.

Taking a deep breath, she willed her trembling hands lower. She picked up the basket and closed her eyes, grateful to have something to hold onto again. Something that was real, not the paralyzing fear she was trying to quell.

A few moments later and with the berries that could be saved safely inside the basket again, her breathing returned to normal. She sighed and smiled, chiding herself for being on such an edge. Wolves indeed!

The hand that wrapped around her mouth stifled the scream that came tearing up from her belly. The ground came up against her cheek. She tried to push herself up, tried to make her legs kick but they, too, were held in place.

The thing, the terrible thing covering her mouth and pressing against her back was holding her down.

She tried to thrash her arms but soon found them pinned behind her back. Her hips were lifted. She gasped as the thin loincloth she was wearing fell away from her most intimate places.

And then a hungry hand was between her legs.

Her mind was spinning, frantic and shocked by her predicament. And yet her body was screaming something completely different.

Through the fear, through the blazing panic the attack had ignited, she felt something soften inside herself.

The hand was pressing against her opening. A strong, thick finger, almost like a claw, was gliding up and down her now dripping slit. It plied her folds apart, probing and insistent. It slipped into the mouth of her tight sex, causing her to moan.

Where were the guardsmen? Surely, they’d seen her? Surely, they were racing to her aid at this very moment?

She could hear nothing. Not their shouts, nor the whistle of their spears sailing through the air.

The finger dipped into her honeyed tightness again.

She shuddered at the hot pulse of pleasure that rushed up her spine from the intrusion.

The thing growled behind her.

Something swollen and hard came to press against her flower. A hot and throbbing thing, easily as thick as her wrist.

Through her struggling, through the frenzied, hopeless wriggling, she fought with her own waning will. Even as she knew she should be thinking no!, her body was betraying her. She opened her mouth to suck in a breath.

The musky damp scent of the thing’s palm invaded her senses. Her resolve wilted. Her body opened. Her voice still muffled by the paw, she nonetheless could not resist the words that bubbled up from her belly. “Oh, Gods of the mountain, yes!”

The swollen thing pierced her. It stretched her soft folds and made her moan again. It furrowed into her tunnel, stretching her with slick wet sounds.

Drowning in lust, Royla lifted her rump, impaling the thing deeper inside herself.

Another growl came rolling up her back, making her skin crawl in the most delicious way.

The thing kept sliding in, its thickness nearly breaking her.

Consumed by the sensation, Royla moaned again. “Oh, Gods, yes!” It felt so good inside her wet heat.

Her eyes popped open as the bulbous head of the thing came up against her end. In the periphery she saw the thing only as a dark shadow; a towering dark mountain of flesh, muscles rippling, nostrils flared, lips curled in a lusty snarl.

How can I be enjoying this?

She could not evade the pleasure coursing through her, just as she couldn’t evade the question. As the muscle pulled out and began stabbing into her pussy, her cheek scraping along the forest floor as he lunged, Royla was unable to keep her hips from rutting back, her body trying to swallow the thick organ to its deepest place.

She began to quiver. Her toes curled. A hot ball of ache formed between her legs. She squeezed her eyes shut tight. What was happening? What was happening to her body?

The growl that came next was louder and far more wild.

This only excited her more. Only caused the ball of ache to swell. Soon she was so full she thought she might burst. Surely her body would break from this?

Then it erupted. Hot and sticky and thick, it pulsed up her spine and drenched her mind, drowning her in ecstasy.

The thing grunted.

Royla felt the warm splatter of its release slathering her walls. The sensation was accompanied by another heady rush of lust and ecstasy. What was this feeling? It drowned her again. She seemed to leave herself, unable to perceive anything but her own pleasure.

She sailed over the crest of the exhilarating tightness gripping her body. Her hips bucked, her toes curling, fingers digging into the dirt, bracing herself against the thing rutting into her.

Only as the delirious pleasure began to ebb did her reason start to return. The thing, whatever it was, was inside her. Its softening member was still plying her softness, stretching her tight flower. A trickle of something ran out of her and dribbled down her leg.

Royla was suddenly overcome by shame and humiliation. How could she have let this happen? How could the guardsmen not have heard, not sensed something was wrong?

The creature’s swaying slowed, then stopped. It pulled its muscle from her body, groaning as it did.

Royla didn’t dare look back. Her cheek was still pressed against the ground, her bottom and most intimate place exposed to its leering eyes. Another swell of humiliation coursed through her, making her cheeks go hot and red. She dared not move as fingers of fear worked their way up her spine.

The silence around her was deafening. Her ears began to ring. She wondered if the creature had retreated back into the forest. She closed her eyes and counted to one hundred. Nothing happened. There were no sounds behind her.

After what seemed like an hour, she found the courage to lift herself up. Pressing against the cold, damp earth, she raised her body, still not daring to look behind herself. She looked forward, toward the glen. Her eyes widened, and her mouth fell open.

The guardsmen were nowhere to be seen. They were gone.

She froze at the sensation of strong fingers wrapping around the back of her neck. She was not alone. It was still there.

A moment later its hot breath was on her cheek.

Royla’s body began to shake with fear.

“You are mine, offering. You come with me.”

She opened her mouth to scream, to cry out for the guardsmen, tell them she was there. The only sound that came out was a breathless whimper.

The female barely weighed anything, slung over Thanred’s shoulder. He walked easily through the woods, enjoying the sensation of her bottom rubbing against his cheek ever so often. He tried to savor his recent release but found himself searching for the accompanying relief from the urge to copulate again.

Something was… different.

He’d sheathed himself inside a female and spilled his seed. Normally that would mean at least a day of peace from the gnawing need to breed again. This time something hadn’t worked the same.

A few moments after he’d removed himself from her tightness, he’d felt the feeling return. It was a hungry, greedy thing. It clouded his mind, invading every other thought he tried to have.

And now wasn’t the time to be distracted. He needed to find shelter. He needed to find food, if only for the human. They were delicate, brittle things.

Not like the Dranark. A Dranark hunter could go weeks in the wild without food and days without water. These humans needed to eat and drink daily.

Thanred saw a brighter light through the trees. He changed direction, making his way through the thick brush until he emerged into a clearing.

Good. I can get my bearings and decide which way to head next.

The important thing for him was that he had a vessel now. The offering was his, unless Dodlin got it in his pointy head to come hunting for him.

A part of him hoped he would. He would show that coward rat what a Dranark mistreated was capable of.

The sun felt good on his cheeks as he stepped into the clearing. The human squirmed on his shoulder, reminding Thanred that she was there. He dropped to one knee and sloughed her off his arm, letting her stand before him.

Standing up, he laid eyes on her face for the first time. His breath caught in his throat for a moment as he stared.

He’d seen humans in the wild before. But only far away while lurking in the trees on a hunt. He’d never seen one up close. And he’d never seen one that looked like this.

This one had large blue eyes and puffy, rosy cheeks. Her lips were plush and red like strawberries. She had a dimple at each corner of her mouth.

Her body was… strangely captivating. He’d admired her well-developed rump as he’d been fucking her. But he’d been unable to see her plump breasts, or the way her tiny waist flared into deliciously full hips. Her body seemed to call to him as his eyes raked up and down her soft curves.

Thanred noticed her lower lip quivering. She was obviously frightened. Something softened inside of him. She was an innocent-looking thing and most likely not experienced in the rough ways of life and nature. A part of him wished he could have taken her more gently. But the Dranark need was overwhelming and blind to everything but the release of seed.

A pang of sympathy welled from within. He stepped forward and reached out, hoping to offer some small consolation to the female.

The action was greeted with an even more profound terror on her expression. She screamed, the sound sending a flock of evensong birds erupting from the trees overhead. She spun around quicker than he’d thought she was capable of moving. Arms pumping at her sides, she began to dart back toward the trees.

Thanred quaked at the sight of his offering, the only receptacle that could sate his need, running away. His body, reacting to the sight before his mind, sprang to action. Soon he was right behind her, his arm outstretched, falling onto her shoulder, fingers clamping down like a vise.

She screamed again as she fell to the ground.

The sound pierced through Thanred, causing his insides to tighten in a very unpleasant way. But he could not risk losing her. She would be his salvation out here, far from the rest of the tribe. Like it or not, she would have to be his.

Thanred knelt beside her shaking body. He hauled her up off the ground and over one knee. Surely if he showed her the consequences of trying to escape, she would not attempt it again. He yanked her loincloth off, sending it flying into the tall grass, exposing her rear.

His hand rose, then fell, crashing against the soft flesh.

Her body tightened on his knee a moment before she emitted another scream.

The sound, as well as her reaction, had a strange effect on Thanred. His cock began to harden. His vision tunneled. Soon the only thing he was able to focus on was her soft and reddening flesh, quivering as his hand rose and fell in hard spanks.

Each correction was met with fresh resistance. She grabbed hold of his leg and dug her fingers in.

The pain barely reached Thanred’s mind.

Even when she began to kick, he barely noticed. All he could stare at and the only thing he could think of was how beautiful her red rump looked, the tiny petals of her desecrated flower still stretched from his girth between her legs.

It took a dozen or so swats before she acquiesced. The tension left her body and she hung slack over his knee, as if by that act she were signaling her submission.

Thanred landed two more hard swats on each cheek for good measure. After the last, he held his hand on her bottom, enjoying the heat radiating off her skin. The heat he’d put there.

It was hard to say how long he stayed in that position. His eyes kept roaming up and down her soft spots. Pulling her cheek to one side exposed a second tight and winking hole.

Thanred scowled. The Dranark had no such thing. Dranark females had one hole and their mouth. That was it.

His curiosity piqued, he let the tip of his finger drift toward the opening. He leaned forward to see that it was a puckered ring of muscle.

The female stiffened on his knee as he pressed the tip of his finger against it. She let out a strange warbling sound as he pushed harder, slipping his finger into the tight place.

Sweet Mother Mountain, she is tight there!

His cock had engorged completely. It was hard as a rock and pressing into the female’s belly. An all-consuming sensation gripped him. He wanted everything about this female. To know her in every way. To probe her most intimate places and to fuck her until they touched minds like Dranark mates did.

But he wanted to see her again, too, and not just her backside. He wanted to gaze on those two large breasts, touch them and knead them and own them. Rolling her off his lap, he set her standing two lengths ahead of him and stared into her eyes.

She couldn’t hold his gaze. Her eyes wavered, then drifted lower to stare at the ground. Her cheeks were nearly as red as her rear.

He growled. “To you I am ‘Master.’”

Her eyes darted side to side.

Thanred balked at her impudence in not replying immediately. A Dranark female would have been put in stocks for not greeting her mate correctly. This, too, needed to be corrected. He stood, grabbed a fistful of her flaxen hair and pulled it back, jerking her head back so her eyes met his. With his other hand he smacked her ass again. Twice on each cheek.

She winced. A tear rolled down her cheek.

“To you I am ‘Master,’” Thanred repeated, growling more fiercely this time.

Her lips trembled as she opened them. She sniffled, then spoke. “You are Master.”

His muscle jumped between his legs. How sweet her voice was! A soft ache began in his belly. He couldn’t bring himself to look away from her wide, frightened eyes.

“I am Royla.”

Thanred raised an eyebrow at her whispered introduction. What a bold creature, speaking to him as if she were an equal. His hand fell on her ass again, the sounds sailing through the clearing and disappearing into the forest. Four in all. “Speak when spoken to,” Thanred explained.

Her body was tight, lips still trembling, eyes darting side to side. She made an attempt to nod but could barely move her head for his fist wrapped in her hair. “Y-yes,” she stammered.

Thanred searched her eyes and her expression. What was it about her that was… twisting his insides so?

He decided he would have plenty of time to contemplate it later. After they’d found food and shelter for the night. For the time being, there were more important things to take care of. He released her hair and took a step back, his eyes roaming down her body again. “You are mine now. You belong to me. You will do as I say. And you will obey. Or I will correct you again and this time not just with my hand,” he stated.

Royla’s eyes darted between the ground and his. She nodded again. “Yes,” she whispered.

Thanred’s cock ached with need, pressing against his mind. He did his best to ignore the sensation. He would have her again later.

Turning to look toward the sun, Thanred closed his eyes and stilled his mind. The gift came quickly, painting a bird’s-eye view of where they were in his imagination.

There, a day’s march behind him, were the caves. The thought of them made his heart heavy again. He ignored that, too. To the east lay Mother Mountain, a storm brewing at her peak. To the west, the long plains of Quagrath that led to the furious sea.

To the north he could see the puny palisade the humans had built. Memories of the raids the Dranark had run flashed through his mind. Before the truce. Before the yearly offering. That direction would not be safe.

But to the south lay more forest. Virgin and unexplored, that would be the best direction. No Dranark would come stalking them there, away from the safety of the caves. Hopefully the humans didn’t roam there, either.

He opened his eyes to find Royla still trembling before him. Despite her obedient replies, Thanred was unconvinced that she wouldn’t try to escape again. He couldn’t allow that. “Stay there,” he commanded.

He stalked across the clearing, to the very center where the tallest grasses grew. Plucking a dozen or so fronds, he began braiding them together, the way his mother had shown him. By the time he returned to where Royla was standing, he had fashioned a very usable, if somewhat short rope.

He tied a small knot in one end. Looping the other through it, he placed it over Royla’s head and around her neck. Gripping it, he tightened it around her tender flesh. Releasing it caused it to slacken, just enough that it wasn’t cutting off her breath.

She would be comfortable this way. And he would be assured that she wouldn’t bolt again. Chasing her through the woods would be far more trouble than running her down in the clearing had been.

He gave the rope a sharp tug, then began walking in the direction of the wind. “This way,” he grunted.

After tripping a few steps, Royla fell into line behind him, her head bowed low.

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